Favorite Ballistics Calculator Apps for Smart Phones

I use a few apps regularly to help me shoot and compare cartridge ballistics.  I am somewhat frugal when it comes to purchasing apps and tend to rely on free apps from ammo and scope manufacturers, but most long-range shooters will need to pay for a ballistics solution app when no app is available from a particular ammo manufacturer or if you are a reloader.

Winchester’s Ballistics Calculator is a great starting point.  It’s free and comprehensive with Winchester’s line of ammo.  I use this app a lot to compare bullet drop for rifle calibers at long ranges.  For example, when zeroed at 200 yards, what’s the bullet drop at 400 yards for a 130-grain .270 Winchester versus a 150-grain .30-06 versus a 150-grain .308 Winchester versus a 150-grain 7mm Remington Magnum versus a 100-grain .243 Winchester?  (That happens to be the distance for the 14″ gong at Putnam County Gun Club where I shoot.)  The Winchester Ballistics Calculator is available on your computer or smart phone as an app.  The app version compares three cartridges while the computer version allows you to compare five.  Here is a screen shot from the calculator comparing popular deer cartridges:

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Click on the image to enlarge it.  You can also view and print a ballistics table from this screen using the full-site, computer version for future reference.  One downside to the Winchester app is that you cannot adjust muzzle velocity, a key component for calculating trajectory.  Listed muzzle velocities are typically from a 24-26″ barrel, common on hunting rifles.  However, if you’re shooting a carbine, muzzle velocity could be 200-300 ft/s less.

The second ballistics app I encourage you to get is from the optics manufacturer Swarovski.  I’m not a fan of Swarovski’s prices for sure, and I think Leupold’s VX-III product is as good, if not better.  (If I was going to spend $2,000 on a scope, it would be a NightForce.)  However, Swarovski offers a comprehensive library of ballistic coefficients and muzzle velocities for most cartridges, and you need that for the ballistics calculator below.  For Winchester bullets you’ll need to use the Winchester app as it is not listed in the Swarovski app.

Select any scope in the first drop-down box.  It doesn’t matter which one, but Swarovski makes you do this prior to seeing ballistic coefficient and velocity data.  The image below shows the ballistic coefficient for Black Hills .308 168-grain Match Hollow Point to be 0.431 with muzzle velocity of 2650 feet per second.  Data are available for most ammunition via Swarovski’s app.

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Now that you have a library of ballistic coefficients and muzzle velocities, you need a ballistics calculator.  My choice is iStrelok.  (Don’t be fooled by the simple website.  This app is great.)  I like this program for many reasons, and here are the primary ones:

  1. Practically all scope reticles are available in the program.  Not only do you see a ballistics table, you see the actual sight picture with your scope’s reticle showing you exactly where to hold the crosshairs.  See below.
  2. When I bought it, the app cost only $4.99 for my iPhone.
  3. If your reticle is not listed, you can contact the Igor Borisov, the programmer, directly via the app, and he will add it!  I’ve done this and was amazed at his response time.
  4. You can save up to 10 rifle profiles.  This allows you to easily recall previously input information for your rifles without having to re-look-up ballistic coefficients and velocity data.
  5. You can adjust for wind speed, shooting angle, and atmospheric conditions (assuming you enter the atmospheric conditions for when you sighted-in your rifle, easily done next time you go to the range).
  6. Allows for FFP (first focal plane) reticles and SFP (second focal plane) reticles.  Click here to learn about the difference between FFP and SFP reticles.
  7. You can input the target size which helps visualize the exact hold.  The image below was entered as 14″ to replicate the 400-yard gong at Putnam County Gun Club.

With iStrelok, you know your exact hold with the specific cross-hair of your scope!  Here is the information I input for a hypothetical shot at the 400-yard gong with a Burris MTAC 4.5-14x42mm scope having a G2B Mil-Dot reticle: distance = 400 yards, target size = 14″, 5 mph crosswind, 6° up angle, and Winchester .308 150-grain Power Point ammo:

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If you find the ballistics app you’re using does not allow you to hit targets at distance, you should read this article on Sources of Ballistics Programs Inaccuracies.  Using a ballistics program does not preclude you from getting familiar with your rifle at the range.  If you can get the actual muzzle velocity of your cartridge measured using your rifle with a chronograph, that will go a long way to helping you get the best results since ballistic coefficients and bullet weight are readily available and constant for a specific cartridge.

Home Defense Shotguns

It’s hard to beat a shotgun for home defense for several reasons: firepower; ease of handling; intimidation factor; and possibly most important, higher likelihood of hitting your target under stress.  There are some cons too, and those might include difficulty handling in tight spaces and space for secure storage.  Let’s look at these factors more in-depth and find some solutions that can help you make a good choice for your home defense shotgun.

remington12sb00Firepower is a combination of energy, shots on target, and capacity.  A 12-gauge pump shotgun with 5+1 or more capacity loaded with 2-3/4″, 12-pellet, 00-Buck and/or Winchester PDX1 Defender shells is more than adequate to handle any home defense situation.  I actually mix these shells in my Winchester SXP Defender (C&L everyday price is $299) in this order:  00, 00, PDX, 00, PDX, 00.  I figure that the first two shots may be shaky, but one will likely hit.  With a slug in the third and fifth positions, I can provide a finishing blow if necessary.  I strongly recommend 2-3/4″ shells for home defense as 3″ and larger shells are much louder indoors and increase time to the next shot.

Ease of handling is dependent on the weapon and your familiarity with it.  You MUST practice with your home defense firearm!  Just because you grew up hunting squirrels with a shotgun does not mean you can proficiently operate it under stressful conditions.  Generally speaking, a pump shotgun is simple to operate, but you must be able to load it, operate the safety, and engage the slide release when necessary without a second thought.  I personally keep my shotgun unloaded with shells hidden nearby.  I practice loading it with shells in the order above several times per month and now it’s like second nature.  A shorter barrel will greatly improve handling indoors.  Keep in mind that the minimum legal shotgun barrel length is 18″.

Intimidation factor with a pump shotgun comes in several ways:  the sound of the action being pumped can be enough to scare an intruder from your home, a shotgun is physically much larger than a pistol and intrinsically has more intimidation factor when seen by an intruder, and you can use a shotgun like a club or battering ram if necessary.

Having a higher likelihood of hitting your target under stress might be the most important factor of all.  We’ve all seen police videos of good guys and bad guys emptying their 15-shot pistol magazines 15-feet apart with no one getting hit.  Fact is aiming a weapon with a 4″ sight radius versus pointing an 18″ barrel in the general direction of what you want to hit is like comparing apples to oranges.  You can more naturally aim a shotgun than a pistol, period.

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There are cons to shotguns as mentioned above.  To compensate for these cons, ensure your home defense shotgun barrel is 20″ or less.  Carrying a 26″ or 28″ barreled shotgun down a hallway is not an easy thing to do.  Make sure you practice retrieving your shotgun and loading it on a regular basis.  If you have a loaded shotgun locked up, practice working the combination and/or inserting the key into the lock in the dark.

Recommended home defense shotguns:  Winchester SXP Defender, Remington 870 18″, Stevens M320 19495 (based on the Winchester 1300, pistol grip, and most economical), and Mossberg 500 Persuader.

Which pistols can be carried Cocked and Locked?

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When it comes to semi-automatic pistols, the phrase “cocked and locked” refers to a pistol having a round chambered, hammer cocked, and safety on.  Technically, a pistol must have a single-action mode (hammer cocked) and have a secondary safety switch.  This automatically disqualifies modern-style pistols like Glocks, S&W M&Ps, Springfield XDs, and Sig Sauers (excluding the Sig 1911 of course!).  The phrase cocked and locked originated with John Browning’s 1911 design and is also known as “Condition 1.”

Some of the more prominent pistols that can be carried “cocked and locked” include:

Single-Action Only
1911
Browning Hi-Power
Beretta 92 (note that later 92S models eliminated the manual thumb safety)
Taurus PT92 (based on Beretta’s design)
Sig Sauer P226 SAO

Double-Action/Single Action
CZ 75
EAA Witness (CZ 75 clone)
Hechler & Koch USP
HK45

There are many debates online about the inherent safety of carrying a firearm cocked and locked.  Mechanically, a modern pistol is very safe to carry that way.  However, the overall level of safety depends on the carrier’s familiarity and experience carrying a pistol in Condition 1.

My advice?  If you want to carry cocked and locked, practice extensively at the range and get some advice from an experienced carrier.